The Lost Message of Jesus Debate

Having made a round trip of 400 miles in order to attend The Lost Message of Jesus debate, I would now like to comment on both the debate and what Steve Chalke has written. Firstly, I think it is unfortunate that in his book Steve chose to describe the penal substitution theory of the atonement as "cosmic child abuse". Like me, Steve has grown up in the evangelical sub-culture and must have known what the effect would be of using such emotive language. If he didn't then, he certainly does now. Sadly, in the resulting storm of controversy other important themes, not least Jesus' teaching on non-violence, have been side-lined. I would have preferred that Steve had made a much more thorough biblical and theological case against penal substitution before he decided to open Pandora's box.

However, to be fair, writing in the September issue of "Christianity" magazine, Steve has latterly made a cogent case against penal substitution, drawing attention to its neo-pagan origins whilst at the same time giving a good thumb-nail sketch of the alternative Christus Victor understanding of the atonement, acknowledging for example the work of Gustav Aulen. (Fortunately, Bishop Aulen's seminal work, "Christus Victor", was reprinted in paperback in 2003 by Wipf and Stock and so is easily available for those who wish to read it for themselves.)

Turning to the debate itself, it is clear to me that those who spoke against Steve Chalke and Stuart Murray Williams do not seriously wish to examine the philosophical, theological and political origins of their favoured model of the atonement, nor its ethical implications. This in turn has serious implications for those Christians who do wish to and there will be members of the Evangelical Alliance's constituency who may well need to reconsider their position as supporters of this organisation.